Cast & Crew info:
Bryce Dallas Howard
Produced by Sam Mercer, Jose L. Rodriguez, Scott Rudin
and M. Night Shyamalan; Directed and written by M.
Thriller (US); 2004; Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence
and frightening situations; Running Time: 121 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
July 30, 2004
by DAVID KEYES
what seems like generations in M. Night Shyamalan's "The
Village," a peaceful establishment of villagers has
lived in complete seclusion, fearful of the idea of venturing
out of their own borders and into the forests where unknown
beings lurk. Their worry of the outside is underscored early
on as farmers and young children feast at tables on an open
meadow, and a beastly cry in the wooded hills echoes across
the landscape, sending chills up and down their spines like
mice waiting for a ravenous cat to pounce. No one knows
exactly who they are or what they look like, but the town's
elders refers to them as "those whom we do not speak
of," suggesting that the outside forces may range from
barbaric humans to bloodthirsty monsters. We as audience
members know even less than what the characters seem to,
but we share in their sense of dread; a world in which the
boundaries are determined by lit torches and guard towers,
after all, doesn't suggest that the outside beings are that
peaceful or civilized.
have heard tales like this before, in storybooks and sitting
around at campfires, all with one simple thread of reasoning
driving them: to undermine your defenses long enough to
scare the pants off of you. Like any good story, however,
most of these colorful tales are just that - tales, fables,
complete and utter works of fiction. But you don't question
them, either, because it's fun when you have ordinary people
dealing with monstrous villains. "The Village,"
on the other hand, has a conscious underlying knowledge
that everything on screen is fiction, which means that any
and all scare moments you might have are just false reactions
to a shameless pretense. This isn't the skilled or even
plausible thriller that Shyamalan or his enthusiastic actors
would have you believe; the movie is a faux thriller, so
filled with camouflage and manipulation that when the big
twists are finally revealed, the entire film loses any true
sense of value. To have hindsight is to defeat the purpose
of even seeing the picture at all.
film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Lucius Hunt, a shy but fearless
villager who is in love with Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard),
the blind daughter of town elder Edward Walker (William
Hurt). He is, admittedly, too introverted to publicly acknowledge
his true feelings for Ms. Walker; luckily for him, however,
Ivy is not nearly as timid, and despite her inability to
see him she pursues like a bull with a red flag being waved
in front of its face. That the two of them have known each
other since they were children only anchors their bond,
and when she speaks to him he listens like she's only thing
in the world that matters.
dilemma in all this is that Lucius, recognizing the reclusive
attitude of his fellow villagers, has volunteered himself
to go outside the borders and into neighboring towns for
new medicines needed to combat serious illnesses (the movie
stresses this point when the elder August Nicholson lays
his own son to rest at the beginning of the movie, probably
for an ailment that could have easily been managed with
outside care). The elders, on the other hand, reject the
plea, sticking to the traditional rhetoric that anyone venturing
into the woods becomes the target of a race of ruthless
forest-dwelling beasts and potentially puts the entire village
populace in mortal danger. Furthermore, townsfolk are also
told that the beasts are drawn to the color red, making
it forbidden within the village at all times, and all the
more dangerous to potential wanderers since red flowers
completely populate the lands just outside of their own.
the warnings of the elders, Lucius goes into the woods anyway.
But only just for a moment - and unfortunately for him,
that one moment is noticed by someone in the shadows, which
provokes a mild resistance in the beasts as they wander
into the towns that night and terrorize its fearful citizens.
The camera is careful not to reveal much of them during
this night invasion, but it gives us enough - they are robed
in red (hey, that's forbidden!), stand tall and growl like
savage animals, and seem to be made up of boney skeletal
systems. At this point in the movie, Shyamalan succeeds
in building the necessary tension; he seems to truly evoke
the idea that his characters are dealing with something
beyond their control (and, quite possibly, our sphere of
reality). Are they indeed the savage beasts the elders warn
everyone of? What do they want? Why are they so challenged
by anyone wandering into their territory? Rather than giving
those questions an effective answer (or even leaving them
open to interpretation), the director squanders the thrill
by employing a series of big reveals that are not only damaging,
but fatal to the material's effect.
twists, admittedly, are not conventional. Shyamalan has
always been a big fan of narrative disguise (consider the
final twist of "The Sixth Sense," which gives
all the material before it new perspective), but in the
past when he has pulled away the narrative wool, he hasn't
pulled the skin away with it, either (I have only liked
one Shyamalan film thus far, but that's beside the point).
When it comes to him playing the audience in "The Village,"
he overstretches his potential and causes the material to
cave in on itself; the revelations are too challenging and
too disconnected for them to work in any context with the
substance before it. Seeing these revelations, furthermore,
robs the film of any and all potential repeat value. Our
very desire to see the endeavor in the first place is based
on the promise of thrills, but knowing the outcome of it
all removes any and all hope of you being scared or surprised.
there is an unaffected bright spot in all of this, it's
that newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard is good enough to rise
above the shenanigans of the script and emerge without it
undermining her usefulness. As the blind Ivy, a caring woman
with faith in what is right (and confident that the love
of her life will never leave her behind), she is damn-near
brilliant in the way she faces danger without backing away
from it. Even when the movie forces her to abandon the village
and seek out external help following a tragedy concerning
two villagers, she is driven not by fear but by confidence.
Watching her wander around in a movie so filled with miscalculations,
of course, saddens the effect (why can't we get a performance
this good in a movie that deserves it?), but at least she
isn't buried by it. This is an actress we will surely be
seeing more of in the not-too-distant future.
crucial characterizations emerge without much going for
them other than the actors in the roles. Consider, for example,
the Noah character, played here by Adrien Brody in such
a zealous manner that you almost wonder if the director
is coaching him behind the camera ("Hey you, act all
crazy and maybe no one will notice my plot sucks!").
Now Brody is a likeable guy, who remains fresh in the memory
with his marvelous performance in Roman Polanski's "The
Pianist," but when a screenplay devotes more time on
a character's quirks instead of necessary exposition, you
have to wonder what inspired him to take the role in the
first place. Ditto to Sigourney Weaver, one of our great
living actresses, who is reduced to a mere background player
here before she has an opportunity to remind us of why she
is so good in the first place. I gather many of these faces
were acquired based simply on the notion that they would
be starring in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. To them, a script
was probably just a minor detail.
has always skated on thin ice as a director, but after his
last feature, "Signs," opened in theaters two
summers ago, it was as if a sophomore filmmaker had graduated
to the senior class overnight (that film, too, had an implausible
resolution, but it was detached enough so that the material
before it still stood on its own). Such a perception only
makes the mess that is "The Village" much harder
to swallow. Is this a guy that expects to be regarded, in
some context, as a modern-day Hitchcock in the way that
he concentrates on tension? Perhaps. But Hitchcock did not
resolve thrills with insult or blatant manipulation, either;
he knew that suspense was only worth building as long as
it drove you in the direction of a worthwhile payoff. Once
Shyamalan recognizes that concept and quits trying so hard
to invert things, maybe he can recover from this relapse.
Until then, stick with "Signs" and forget that
he directed anything else.
© 2004, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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